(Published Tuesday 29 May, 11:00) – At 430 on Saturday afternoon the starting stalls will burst open and the runners for the Investec Derby, the world’s oldest Classic race, will set off in pursuit of racing immortality.
Since Diomed, ridden by Sam Arnull, won the very first Derby way back in 1780, anyone that knows anything about the sport knows there’s no such thing as a certainty in racing, indeed in sport of any kind, but there’s little doubt that the Qipco 2000 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior (pictured above), trained by Aidan O’Brien, is going to take some stopping on the evidence of his brilliant win at Newmarket earlier this month.
The son of Galileo will be ridden by Ryan Moore, seeking a third Derby win, and will face a maximum of 13 rivals, although a final field of around 12 runners is expected as O’Brien is responsible for no less than seven of the 14 five-day declarations and will probably run five at an absolute maximum.
Can Anything Beat Saxon Warrior?
Few observers of the Qipco 2000 Guineas left the track unimpressed by what they saw the winner achieve (see video below), especially as he has always been viewed as a more of a middle distance prospect than a miler.
For once, the Ballydoyle triumvirate of owners John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derek Smith have spoken openly about the possibility of SAXON WARRIOR potentially being the horse to provide them with their first ever Triple Crown. No horse has achieved that remarkable feat since the great Nijinsky in 1970, although O’Brien’s own Camelot went agonisingly close in 2012, following wins in the 2000 Guineas and Derby with an unlucky second to Sheikh Mohammed’s Encke, subsequently disqualified after testing positive for a banned substance, but too late for the race to be awarded to the runner-up.
The fact that the O’Brien team is even prepared to publicly speak of such aspirations for Saxon Warrior is a huge vote of confidence in his ability to stay not only the mile-and-a-half at Epsom, but also the extra two-and-a-half furlongs at Doncaster in September.
Saxon Warrior is 8/11 with Sky Bet for the Derby but most punters are reluctant to bet odds-on feeling the return for modest stakes, should they win, is hardly worth their while. But in an era where annual interest of 2% on savings is quite a find, making 80% profit at odds 4/5 for less than three minutes ‘work’ is very tempting and there will be many bigger hitters who will be prepared to take the chance and invest big on Saxon Warrior.
The unbeaten colt does look outstanding and is undoubtedly the percentage call, but “there is many a slip twixt cup and lip” as the late, great Pat Eddery found in 1984 when riding the superb El Gran Senor, winner of the one of the best 2000 Guineas ever and hot favourite to win the Derby. It looked all over bar the shouting that famous day as Eddery cruised up to take the lead, only for the relatively unconsidered Secreto to appear on the scene and cause a massive shock by beating the seemingly unbeatable Vincent O’Brien-trained star in a desperate finish (see video below).
Lion Looks The Main Danger
The way he quickened away from decent opposition on the Knavesmire a few weeks ago in the Group 2 Betfred Dante Stakes over the extended mile-and-a-quarter and ran strongly through the finishing line suggests the mile-and-a-half of the Derby should be perfect for the classy John Gosden-trained Roaring Lion (see video below).
روارينق ليون Roaring Lion ابن كينتيز جوي Kitten's Joy والام بنت ستريت سنس Street Sense يكسب شوط بيتفيرد دانتي ستيكس للفئة الثانية Betfred Dante Stakes G2 على مضمار يوك pic.twitter.com/nNvFsxI5OB
— صحيفة الفروسية (@horsesnewsnet) May 17, 2018
A 6/1 shot with William Hill, Gosden’s charge has already tasted two defeats at the hands of Saxon Warrior. He was worried out of it close home by Ryan Moore’s mount in the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster last October (see video below), then finished two-and-a-half lengths fifth behind the same horse in the 2000 Guineas.
But at York everything fell into place as Oisin Murphy’s mount stepped up in trip and having shown at Doncaster last year that he can push Saxon Warrior all the way, the US bred colt will be a hugely popular each-way choice with punters and should give a very good account of himself
The Other Key Derby Contenders
Masar, like Saxon Warrior and Roaring Lion, stayed a mile as a juvenile so it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the Godolphin-owned colt may prove better tackling in excess of that trip for the first time. He stayed on to be beaten less than two lengths when a fine third in the 2000 Guineas having run away with the Group 3 Craven Stakes over the same course and distance a couple of weeks before and has reportedly been working well under the watchful gaze of trainer Charlie Appleby.
It’s remarkable when you think of the many hundreds of millions of pounds they’ve invested in bloodstock over the last two decades and more, that Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin team has never won the Derby. I’ll be very surprised if Masar (16/1 withBet365) is up to breaking that record, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ran into a place under William Buick.
Rostropovich was our each-way Derby recommendation after landing a tremendous bet for Betting.Net followers when tipped at 16/1 in our ante-post preview for the Dee Stakes. O’Brien’s colt won that race in very good fashion at odds of just 5/2 and gave the impression he would go well at Epsom (see video below).
"We always thought that stepping up would suit him." – Aidan O'Brien
— BetVictor Racing (@BetVictorRacing) May 10, 2018
But in the aftermath of his Chester win O’Brien hinted that connections may instead head for the French Derby at Longchamp, most likely wanting to spread their fire and give themselves every chance of winning too Derbys and not just the one. Obviously, we’d love to see Rostropovich take his chance at Epsom on Saturday and he is still among the 14 five-day acceptors, but we’re resigned to him most likely being diverted to France instead.
Leopardstown’s Group 3 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial has often produced a genuine Derby contender and Dermot Weld, who won the 2016 Derby with Harzand, sent out that horse’s nephew Hazapour to beat Aidan O’Brien’s Delano Roosevelt and The Pentagon in this year’s renewal on May 13 (see video below).
The Shamardal colt showed a nice turn of foot to take up the running a furlong out then stayed on well to hold the late finish of the runner-up. Given his pedigree on the dam’s side Hazapour should stay the extra 300 yards at Epsom and the fact that the great Frankie Dettori has been booked for the Aga Khan’s colt has seen his odds tumbled with many firms, although Paddy Power still go 14/1.
I wouldn’t bet against Delano Roosevelt reversing the placings with Hazarpor though as his run suggested he was crying out for the step up in trip. With the exception of Saxon Warrior, Delano Roosevelt might well be Ballydoyle’s No.1 choice so his chance has to be respected. Generally a 20/1 shot last week, he has been well backed as is no 12/1 with most firms, although Betfair still offer 14/1. A bold show from The Pentagon (20/1 with Betway) would not surprise either as he has consistently run well against clasys horses, including when finishing third behind Saxon Warrior in last season’s Group 1 Racing Post Trophy.
William Haggas hit the target at Chester landing the Group 3 MBNA Chester Vase with his progressive Young Rascal, now 12/1 with Boylesports for the Derby, getting the better of Mark Johnston’s Dee Ex Bee (33/1 with 188Bet) in a rousing finish (see video below). Owned by Bernard Kantor whose company Investec sponsor the Derby, Young Rascal should give his sporting team a good run for their money under the excellent James Doyle, while Dee Ex Bee has yet to have a jockey confirmed having been ridden by Doyle on a number of occasions in the past.
— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) May 9, 2018
Harry Dunlop’s Knight To Behold (18/1 with Bet365) did the job well when landing the Lingfield Derby Trial with plenty in hand having slipped the field at halfway, beating O’Brien’s Kew Gardens by three-and-a-half lengths. He will take his chance and may well bowl along in front once again but doesn’t look classy enough, although there is little doubt he is going the right way.
John Gosden’s second runner Sevenna Star stayed on well to narrowly beat Godolphin’s Ispolini in the Classic Trial at Sandown last month and is a 33/1 shot with William Hill, but the runner-up was subsequently comfortably beaten by Young Rascal at Chester and the form doesn’t look good enough. Of the remaining five-day entries, Zabriskie was a distant third behind Roaring Lion at York, Nelson looks a few pounds short of the required standard on this season’s evidence, and Kew Garden’s looks one paced and may be a potential Cup horse for later in the season.
In summary, it remains hard to see SAXON WARRIOR being beaten at Epsom, assuming he stays and doesn’t meet trouble-in-running. Our earlier each-way recommendation, Rostropovich, will probably be diverted to the French Derby – although I fancy he could reach a place if allowed to take his chance – so in search of an each-way alternative it has to be Dante winner Roaring Lion, a fine colt in his own right and one who genuinely looks capable of serving it up to the odds-on favourite.
Let’s hope it proves a race to remember.
Written by Paul Alster
Paul Alster has been part of the British and international racing media for more than three decades working as a race commentator, TV/radio presenter, journalist, betting correspondent, SP returner, and form analyst. He’s always sought out overpriced runners in handicap races, a quest that excites him as much now as it did at the start of his career.